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Reviewed by:
  • Reasonable Men, Powerful Words: Political Culture and Expertise in Twentieth-Century Japan
  • Susan Townsend
Reasonable Men, Powerful Words: Political Culture and Expertise in Twentieth-Century Japan. By Laura Hein. University of California Press, 2004. xvii + 328 pages. Hardcover $45.00.

Laura Hein's masterful study of Ōuchi Hyōe (1888-1980) and the five fellow economists who comprised the Ōuchi Group provides a long overdue account of an important group of twentieth-century Japanese intellectuals. Ōuchi is remembered for his attempts to shape Japanese social and economic policy for most of the Shōwa period. [End Page 422] Hein rightly gives him credit as well for preserving and disseminating a narrative of social and political dissent through his editing, introducing, and publishing of the collected works of notable oppositional figures, such as the Marxist economists Kawakami Hajime and Kushida Tamizō, and the leftwing journalists Hasegawa Nyozekan and Suzuki Mosaburō. Born on the island of Awaji to a large family described as "rural intelligentsia," Ōuchi gained entry to the Fifth Higher School in Kumamoto; in 1909, after being inspired by Kawakami's newspaper columns, he went on to study economics in the Law Department of Tokyo Imperial University. His "guiding star," however, was Takano Iwasaburō, a statistician affiliated with the Ōhara Institute for Research on Social Problems. After graduating, Ōuchi worked for the Finance Ministry and collaborated on a project organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York. He came to the conclusion that "war was not a good way to stimulate a national economy," a stance he would maintain for the rest of his career (p. 30).

The other members associated with Ōuchi-Arisawa Hiromi, Ōmori Yoshitarō, Wakimura Yoshitarō, Takahashi Masao, and Minobe Ryōkichi-were all born between 1896 and 1904. Coming from a variety of non-samurai backgrounds, they belonged to the generation of Taishō youth upon whose shoulders, according to Hasegawa, the modern character of the Japanese intelligentsia with all its "virtues and foibles, its strengths and weaknesses" was to rest (Andrew E. Barshay, State and Intellectual in Imperial Japan: The Public Man in Crisis; University of California Press, 1988, p. 147). The friends met in graduate school, and, apart from Ōmori, who died in 1940 at the age of forty-two from stomach cancer exacerbated by tuberculosis, all enjoyed long, high-profile careers spanning the pre- and postwar periods. The group, therefore, provides a wealth of material for analyzing change and continuity in economic thought and policy in twentieth-century Japan. This thoughtful study is also a timely reminder, amid debates on the Kyoto school of philosophers, that not all Japanese intellectuals were "fascists" or tenkōsha (political and ideological recanters) in the interwar period and that there was a well-defined narrative of dissent, albeit among a minority of the intelligentsia.

Much of the group's success in articulating opposition to government policy and mainstream attitudes in the 1930s was due to the strength and cohesion of fraternal bonds traditionally established among the educated elite in middle and higher school and then strengthened in university. Hein offers a fascinating insight into the social and psychological dynamics of such a group. The fact that the economists formed such a tight-knit community was a factor in their arrest and imprisonment in 1938, but their refusal to implicate one another contributed to their eventual release and, in some cases, acquittal.

The men's relationships were not only professional but personal and intimate. On their release from prison in 1939, for example, Takahashi moved in with Ōmori to care for him in his final illness, and Wakimura paid for an unsuccessful operation shortly before Ōmori died. Intellectually, the Ōuchi Group developed a dissident view of capitalism, modernity, and the future of Japan by opposing the Japanese leadership's aggressive nationalism and hostility to European-defined notions of modernity. Unlike the Kyoto school philosophers who advocated "overcoming" modernity in 1942, the economists saw no reason to withdraw from international cooperation with the Western powers and attacked the irrational mantras of mystical nationalism uttered [End Page 423] by so many of their fellow intellectuals. Throughout their careers, they remained wedded to a shared ideal of...


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